|Irma in a characteristic pose|
Irma was our high energy, outgoing cleaner. Every day but Sunday she came in to mop floors, make beds, wash dishes, sweep the walkways, water plants, and create order. She did our laundry for a small fee in an outdoor laundry area she had set up.
As it became clear we should start eating in, I was surprised that we could find no fresh seafood--pescado--in the many little grocery markets nearby, so I turned to Irma. She had very little English and we almost no Spanish, so I said "pescado" and pantomimed cooking it over the stove. She jumped into action. The next thing we new, we were in the carro (car) zooming--though slowed by the many speed bumps-- to Port Angelo.
|Irma and Roger.|
It was one of those lovely moments in which Irma's friend was delighted to sell us shrimp and swordfish at what were no doubt inflated prices to her while we were delighted at the bargain we were getting. We learned from Irma that she had a 16-year-old daughter in high school and had rid herself of her husband 12 years before.
When we realized we would have to go home early, we told Irma. She was distressed--she told us, jokingly, we would have to stay forty more days, as that was how long the house would be empty. She would be out of work and money. I gave her a small amount of money, $25.00, but she seemingly appreciated the gesture and brought over dinner--and her daughter--two days before we were to leave. She also told the home's owner what wonderful people we were and should be had back.
Our part of Mexico was not a place of refrigeration. The produce was particularly wonderful to taste but tended not to be as large and physically beautiful as what we get at home and often sat out for hours in the heat. People seemed to drink ultra-pasterized milk that did not need refrigeration: we had to search to find what, to us, was "regular" milk. Butter, when it could be found, was sold in single sticks. Much of the food we saw beyond produce was staples: beans, rice, canned goods. We discovered bacon once in a refrigerated compartment but where to find fresh "carne" remained a mystery, though not much of a problem as I don't eat meat.
I quickly discovered I needed plastic to cover the food we were keeping in out refrigerator but that the plastic bags that we get far too many of in the U.S. were close to non-existent where we were. This is a wonderful way to live--and a reminder to me to try to take my cloth Aldi bags to more stores in the US--but I found myself hoarding like gold every bit of plastic I could find. This is all good, good, good, to have resources scarce enough that we treasure them rather than choke on them. I also appreciated the metal straws in restaurants, meant to save the local turtles.
|Outside area along a highway.|
We appreciated a restaurant every few feet in the towns close to us. The food was fresh and home cooked, bread products taken out of adobe ovens. We enjoyed dining outside.
One day we went to Pochutla, the closest city, to use the money machine. It was early evening, The streets were lined with street vendors and and a startling number of people of all ages filled the streets and sidewalks.
|The little (and faint) blue dot at the bottom on the Pacific side shows Pochutla and helps locate how far down the coast we were.|
It is hard, if not impossible, to capture the bustle and energy on the Pochutla evening streets--people of all ages, dogs, cars, pedestrians, the street vendors, the brightly lit stores behind them. I have never seen--except perhaps during a festival which has a completely different, less everyday feeling--this kind of energy on a U.S. street. The city felt alive. It is the kind of streetscape that I picture in New York's lower East Side in 1910. It is a streetscape likely to haunt my dreams. I hope the weather can mitigate what is a tight-packed canister for plague transmission.
|Pochulta near the money machine--not where the street vendor are and not packed, but still busy with people on the street.|
We climbed up stone steps one day in San Agustinillo and saw how average people live. To some it might simply look like poverty, but to me simply a different kind of life--and not to be romanticized--but is it worse than ours? I remember the interest I took years ago in the stories told by people like me who went and lived in Third World countries. Often what unfolded was a narrative of middle class people first appalled at poverty, then developing a gradual awareness that while these countries were undoubtedly shockingly poor, there existed a deeply communal or robust way of life--a fabric-- that we no longer have. I don't know how Mexico stacks up worldwide for poverty, but I remember in particular a story from an African nation. The "west" came and gave these poor people running water in their homes, appalled that they didn't have this--sparing the women the long walk to the water hole each day and the long walk back carrying a heavy clay pot of water. Having the running water turned out to be labor saving but also destroyed the social life the women experienced every day meeting to gather water.
I often shrivel when people speak scornfully or contemptuously of all that poorer people don't have, apply stereotypes, judge by outward appearances: how horrible they say it is to live with less than we have, the assumption always reigning that we with more material goods are superior. And I wonder how much I would be able to give up of what I have grown accustomed to. I weigh how much liberation comes in having less, how much deprivation, where is the "sweet spot." But I cannot feel superior. I cannot entirely measure happiness--or worth-- in material goods.
We loved what we saw of Mexican life, the beauty of Mexico. I was glad of speed bumps in the road to slow us down and protect the people without cars, the vibrant streets, the lack of plastic, and the real food, real places, the dogs and cats everywhere. I probably make up most of what I say--construct a narrative to suit myself-- but as Virginia Woolf would point out, that is what we all do.